As Chelten Plaza readies to open, quotes from each side of the divide

It was the focal point of an issue which saw some in the Germantown community choose fractured sides. More than your average zoning battle, it became emblematic of visions or dreams of what the future should hold for the neighborhood.

But, what did random passersby think as they passed a site frantic with coring-and-sawing, refrigeration and other trucks coming and going as workers carried stuff in-and-out of Anna’s Linens, planted trees along the parking-lot edge and worked to get the Save-A-Lot parking lot paved in time?

That was the scene on Friday as a mother with four small children toting bags from a blocks-away produce store walked by. “See, that’s what I was telling you about,” the eldest child said, presumably predicting a shorter walk home in the near future.

Here’s what four random (and two not-so-random) people had to say about the project one week to the day before opening:

1) Helen Arkoh, nearby resident of two-and-a-half years: “There’s good and bad in everything, but it looks like it might be a positive. I won’t have to walk so far to go shopping. But, dollar stores are everywhere so I hope this ends up being good. I’m tired of all the negativity, though.”

2) Kate Kohler, nearby resident walking home with two bags from the nearby Pathmark: “It bothers me that there isn’t a Fresh Grocer here anymore. I don’t know why they’d be moving a Save-A-Lot here; half of their food (at the Wayne Avenue store) isn’t fresh. I didn’t really stop to talk to the protestors when they were here. I’ll definitely miss the Fresh Grocer, but the good thing is that there will be more jobs. Are they hiring?”

3) Toni Frederick, nearby resident who hopes the site is well-lit outside for customer safety: “I’m for it. They’re providing jobs. Times are tough. I’m looking for a second job right now actually. Maybe I’ll get a part-time job here. That’s what it’s all about: Jobs.”

4) Shirley Beachem, nearby resident: “I take the train here from Lincoln and Carpenter, then a bus from here to go up to the Pathmark. Sometimes, I have to go to Montgomery County, to Cheltenham, to shop. But with this, I take the train and I’m right here. It’s a block away. I love it. This is good. A nice clean look.

“You’re not going to get a Trader Joe’s in this neighborhood. They need to be realistic. I love Trader Joe’s. My daughter sends me a (gift certificate) card for it every year, but most people around here can’t afford a Trader Joe’s. I’ve lived here since 1959, when we had the Allen’s, a Thanksgiving Parade, our own Santa. My daughter lives in South Carolina. One time, she came back for a visit and got to the house crying, ‘Mom, what happened to Chelten Avenue?’ We need this so badly here, but people need to take care of it, too. No littering and that kind of thing.”

5) Marcus Heppinstall, business owner and community-business group member who respectfully challenged Beachem’s stance: “What people fail to understand is they’ll be trading one empty lot for another (as in the Save-A-Lot on Wayne closing for this). This is a matter of settling for what you’ve got. You get comfortable with things you see everyday. Desensitized. One you’re exposed to it, the less you’re surprised by it. Litter. Dollar stores. Chicken stores. You can’t get a nice suit to wear to a business meeting, a job interview, but you can sure get a pimp outfit.

“You go back on School House Lane from Wayne to Wissahickon, to Gypsy Lane, revitalization is coming into play. People are remodeling, rehabbing. They’re planning to stay. Why didn’t [he] have something different come here, a more upscale retail establishment? The building is beautiful, but it’s not enhancing the neighborhood to move a Save-A-Lot one block. It’s not balancing out anything.”

6) Patrick J. Burns, developer while offering a mini-tour of the site Friday afternoon: “It’s a relief, but not a relief. You never like being hated, but I genuinely want to this be a real community place. [The backlash] was totally unexpected. … These folks [protestors] did not want to meet.

“I did three different marketing surveys. I’m in the supermarket business: Why wouldn’t I want a Trader Joe’s here? They didn’t want to come here. There isn’t the [customer/population] density for it. And, the dollar store, when successful, will put two or three other less successful ones that people are worried about out of business. … This is what state money is for: To revitalize communities. I can’t understand why [$4 million of state money helping fund this project] upsets people. I have $10 million, checks with personal signatures, invested in this.

(Asked he expects the relationship with opposing residents will change once they’re open) “I hope so.”

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